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[2 of 5] Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017) Chapters 6-10

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Mathieu, Jennifer. “Chapters 6-10.” Moxie: A Novel, Square Fish, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017.


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CHAPTER SIX

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Jun 14
Brandy Y (Jun 14 2022 11:37AM) : Add as many Notice & Note comments and replies as you can in Chapters 6-10 as you read and listen. Watch this GIF (1 min. 20 secs.) to see six reasons to pause your reading, double-click on a sentence or paragraph and comment using the starter sentences. [Edited] more
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I always push the cart when my mom and I go grocery shopping so my mom can focus on the list—written on paper, of course. It’s been that way since I was in middle school.

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Jul 5
Harry B (Jul 05 2022 7:05PM) : Aha Moment more

I see this as an Aha Moment, something that lets us see something Viv feels here, larger than just the grocery list – what do you think it is?

“Black beans or refried?” she asks me, examining the canned goods in front of her.

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“Refried.”

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“Black beans are healthier.”

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“Refried.”

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My mother shoots me a look, but she gives in.

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We almost always go shopping on Thursday nights if she’s not working. My mom can’t handle the craziness of the store on the weekends, and it’s a ritual we have together. But as I push the cart, trying to overcorrect its sticky rear left wheel, I find myself looking at my hands gripping the cart’s handle instead of talking to my mom.

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My hands don’t have a single birthmark or freckle on them. My fingernails are naked—painting them always feels like a hassle. I try to imagine stars and hearts scrawled on these hands tomorrow. I try to imagine what it might feel like to walk the halls of East Rockport like that. My heart beats quickly, but I’m not sure if it’s out of excitement or anxiety. I picture everyone looking at me and all my friends asking me questions. I clench my hands into fists and take a deep breath.

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“Okay, let’s head to frozen foods,” my mom says. She’s different from Meemaw and Grandpa in a lot of ways—except for a Stouffer’s addiction. I follow her, pushing the cart.

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All week I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m doing. The truth is, since Monday morning everything has been pretty much … exactly the same. The biggest development was probably me giving Lucy my extra copy of Moxie. Claudia never mentioned it again, and Mitchell didn’t even bother making fun of it after that one time in Mr. Davies’s class—at least that I know of. I’ve wanted to mention it at lunch with Sara and Claudia and the other girls, but I’m worried that talking about it too much might make me look suspicious even though me being the creator of Moxie is about as likely as me visiting the International Space Station or inventing the cure for cancer in my chem class. At least that’s what the people who know me would say.

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Jul 6
Kelsey L (Jul 06 2022 9:05AM) : Contrasts and Contradictions more

Viv has moments where she’s fully inspired to make a real change at her school like when she made Moxie. She talks about being different but when it really comes down to it she is just a normal, overly self-conscious teen. This is an example of her kinda backing down from her previous statements of being a rebel.

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Jul 20
Harry B (Jul 20 2022 5:34AM) : Agh Moment more

We are definitely seeing inside this character more.

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I’m not sure if I expected anything to come of it. Maybe it’s all over now. Maybe making Moxie was just a way to vent.

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Sure, Vivian, but why did you include that thing about the hearts and stars if you didn’t want it to go anywhere?

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I grimace, trying to ignore the question, but that’s impossible. Because somewhere inside I do want the Moxie zines to go somewhere. I know I do. I’m just not sure I want to commit to being the one to take them there. Wherever there is.

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I scowl at the can of refried beans as I keep pushing the cart forward. It would be easier to just think about Seth, but I haven’t even seen him this week except for in Mr. Davies’s class. He walks in at the bell and leaves at the bell, and he never talks. Just takes notes and sits there all mysterious. Yesterday he wore a shirt that said Black Flag on it, and I spent the night listening to their song “Rise Above” on my phone. It made my toes curl and my chest ache, but in a good way.

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I shiver through the frozen foods section as my mom tosses in a few boxes of lasagna and Salisbury steak. Finally, we make it through checkout, and I help unload the bags into our Honda. I’m making sure a carton of eggs isn’t placed too precariously in the backseat when I hear a male voice behind me.

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“Lisa?”

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There’s a pause, and then I hear my mom, her voice all tinkly and light. “Oh! John, hey. How are you?”

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I slide out of the car to see my mom facing a guy around her age. He’s wearing green scrubs and a loose-fitting gray hoodie, and his face is covered in a red, scruffy beard. My mother’s face looks all lit up, like this guy is handing her a big Lotto check instead of just saying hi.

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“Getting your grocery shopping done?” scruffy redhead dude asks.

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“Trying to,” my mom answers, her voice still a little off somehow.

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“You’re on tomorrow morning, right?” he asks.

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“Yes,” my mother answers, rolling her eyes. This whole interaction seems like it could have taken place in the East Rockport High cafeteria, and my hope that the adult world is nothing like high school crumbles a bit as I lean back against my mom’s car in the HEB parking lot. Why is my mom behaving like a teenager? Who is this weird guy with a red beard?

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“By the way, this is my daughter, Viv,” my mother says, nodding her head toward me and smiling. I raise a hand and smile slightly.

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“Nice to meet you, Viv,” redhead dude says. “I’m John. Your mom and I work together.”

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“Nice to meet you, too,” I answer on autopilot, eyeing him carefully. My mom has never mentioned any guy at work.

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“Well, we’d better get going,” my mom says, even though she barely makes a move.

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John smiles and nods, and finally after way too long my mother and I get in the car and she starts up the engine, but I notice a big blue-and-white DELOBE bumper sticker on the back of John’s SUV as he pulls out of the lot.

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“Gross, he voted for Delobe,” I announce, my voice louder than normal. I know I sound childish, but this John guy weirds me out.

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“Oh, Delobe was a moderate, really,” my mom answers, an absentminded grin on her face.

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“Mom, he ran for mayor as a Republican,” I say, irritated. “You said you’d never vote for a Republican even if your life depended on it.”

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My mom shrugs and pulls our car out of the HEB lot. “It’s Texas, Vivvy. Sometimes a moderate Republican is the best we’re going to get. At least he’s pro marriage equality.”

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I can’t believe her dreamy, distracted mood—she’s not even listening to me—so I shut my mouth and lean my head against the cool glass of the passenger window, frowning at my reflection. When I was in middle school, my mom dated this guy named Matt that she met through a friend of hers. It went far enough that Matt would come over to watch movies with my mom and me and go on walks with us around our neighborhood and take my mom out to dinner while I spent the evening at Meemaw and Grandpa’s. Matt liked orange Tic Tacs and had a mutt named Grover that smelled like lavender dog shampoo.

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He was nice enough, I guess, but when he was around it always felt like I was waiting for him to leave. I didn’t understand why we needed him. After all, it had been two people for as long as I could remember. Me and Mom had always been just fine.

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Then, out of nowhere a few months later, Matt stopped coming over. Mom told me they moved in different directions, and from the way my mom spent several nights on the phone with a friend or two of hers, her face twisted into a scowl and her voice lowered to a whisper, I guessed I shouldn’t ask any questions. After that, Mom never acted like she had any use for any guy in her life except for Grandpa.

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And now there’s this Republican-loving John dude with hair the color of a navel orange making my mom do a tinkly laugh, and all I can think is how disappointed I am that my mom could like a guy like that.

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At home, my mom and I unpack the groceries, making the same light, easy talk we’ve been making for years.

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“Tell me I didn’t forget olive oil.”

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“Where should I put the potatoes again?”

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“I’m going to dig into this ice cream tonight, damn it.”

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After that’s done, my mom collapses onto the couch to watch television and I disappear into a hot shower, letting the streams of steaming hot water drum onto my head. Once I put on my old Runaways T-shirt and sweats, I dig through my collection of pens and markers and Sharpies on my desk. I pluck out one black Sharpie and uncap it, pressing the tip against my index finger a few times to make sure it works. The tiny, scattered black dots look like renegade freckles popping up out of nowhere. My heart beats hard under my rib cage. I imagine myself walking into school tomorrow, the only girl with her hands marked. How fast could I wash them clean so I wouldn’t stick out?

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I swallow hard and place the marker on my nightstand like an alarm clock before I slide into bed. I reach for my headphones and start playing Bikini Kill.

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* * *

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Not one other girl in my first period American history class has anything on her hands. Not Claudia or Sara or anyone. Just me. My marked hands feel like Meemaw’s fine china teacups that she keeps in a glass cabinet and never uses. Like fragile things that don’t belong in a high school and need to be put away, immediately. The heady, dizzy state I was in when I created Moxie disappears, like I’d biked down to U COPY IT in the middle of a dream.

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Of course, Claudia notices my hands. She’s my best friend. She notices when I get my bangs trimmed.

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“Hey, what’s up?” She nods toward my lap, where I have my hands twisted together desperately to cover up the markings I made this morning as the sun was coming up. “You did that thing from the newsletter?”

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Zine, not newsletter, I think to myself, but I just shrug my shoulders.

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“I don’t know. I was bored.” It’s a stupid excuse. For the first time ever, I actually want Mrs. Robbins to walk in and start class on time.

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“I guess I just don’t get it,” Sara says, joining in. “I mean, I thought that thing made some good points, but how is wearing hearts and stars on our hands supposed to change anything?” She eyes my drawings again and my cheeks burn.

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“You’re right, it was stupid,” I say, embarrassed. A lump suddenly fills my throat. If I start crying in front of my friends over this, they’ll know something is up.

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“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” Sara says, her voice soft. “I just meant, like, I think this place is crazy, too, but I don’t think it’s ever going to improve. It was a nice idea or whatever, but … you know.”

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Claudia gives me a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “It only proves you’re super idealistic, just like I thought,” she says. I try to smile back and swallow away any bad feelings.

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Just then, Mrs. Robbins finally walks in, and the first chance I get to be excused to the bathroom, I take it. I make my way down the halls of East Rockport, imagining a time and a place where I’ll be free from the scuffed tiled floors and pep rally banners reading GO PIRATES! and mind-numbing classes that make me feel dumber, not smarter. I just have to hang on until I can get out of here, like my mother. If I only knew where I was going. If only I could be sure I would never come back.

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I push open the heavy door just as a flush echoes from one of the bathroom stalls. I squirt some soap into my palms and start scrubbing my hands in warm water, rubbing at the Sharpie hearts and stars with my thumbs.

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A stall door opens. I look over my shoulder and see Kiera Daniels make her way to one of the sinks. Kiera and I were friends in fourth and fifth grade, back before that weird time in middle school when the black kids and the white kids and the kids who mostly speak Spanish to each other started sitting at separate tables in the cafeteria. She and I used to trade Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and once we even tried to make our own, with me writing the story and Kiera drawing the pictures. Now she sits at a table with other black girls and I sit at a table with my friends, and sometimes we nod at each other in the hallway.

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Jul 6
Caleb M (Jul 06 2022 8:39AM) : Its interesting to see that there is segregation in the school and maybe even racism.
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Jul 20
Harry B (Jul 20 2022 5:33AM) : Racism more

Well pointed out, and this points to so many areas of describing the location, history, and more of the story.

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“Hey,” she says as she makes her way over to one of the sinks.

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“Hey,” I say back.

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And then I see them. Stars and hearts. Big ones, too. Fat, bubbly Sharpie hearts and stars all the way up her wrists. Her drawings are detailed. I can see she’s even created tiny planets in between the stars. Kiera was always a good artist.

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Kiera’s hearts and stars say Look at me. Mine just whisper I’m here. But still, she spots them.

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“You read that newsletter?” she asks.

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Zine, not newsletter. But whatever.

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“Yeah, I did,” I answer. And I find myself turning the water off and reaching for a paper towel to dry my hands.

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“Who did it?” she asks, raising an eyebrow. She’s washing her hands carefully, trying not to smudge her hand graffiti.

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“No clue,” I answer, bending over to scratch an imaginary itch on my knee, hoping it provides me enough cover to shield my face while I’m lying. I can feel my cheeks starting to warm.

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“I liked it,” Kiera says. “It said a lot of smart stuff. Things here are fucked up. I mean, my boyfriend is a football player, but still. They are fucked up.” Kiera drops her voice a few notches. “Did you know they get to eat at Giordano’s for free every Saturday? All you can eat?”

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Giordano’s is the tastiest Italian restaurant in all of East Rockport, and it’s my go-to favorite place to order pizza from if Mom says there’s any extra money in our food budget at the end of the week.

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“The football players?” I ask, my voice matching Kiera’s in quietness. “Someone has to pay for that food. The bill must come to hundreds of dollars every week.”

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“Who knows who pays for it,” Kiera answers. “But I’d be willing to bet it’s Mitchell’s daddy somehow. I do know the girls’ soccer team hasn’t had new uniforms since my mom went to school here. And I’m not exaggerating.”

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“Damn.”

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“Exactly,” Kiera tells me. She finishes drying her hands carefully and then the two of us stand there. It’s a little awkward. This is probably the most Kiera and I have said to each other since the fifth grade.

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“I wonder what the Moxie people will do next,” I say. I don’t know if I’m asking for ideas or just trying to throw Kiera off my trail. Not that Kiera would have any reason to suspect me.

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“So you think it’s more than one girl?” Kiera asks. “Whoever made Moxie, I mean.”

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“I have no idea, but probably,” I say. There’s another bread crumb leading her in the wrong direction. Just in case. “I mean, it sounded like more than one girl when I read it.”

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“Well, whatever they do next, it needs to be something bigger than this,” Kiera continues, holding up one hand. “I mean, this is cool and all, but they need a big F U in the face of Wilson. Something that gets more girls involved, too.”

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Kiera’s voice grows louder, more sure of itself, as she talks to me. For one dumb minute I start to think she made Moxie, not me. She’s probably better suited to lead it, anyway, whatever it is. I would rather hide in the back of the classroom than answer a question, and I just tried to wash off my hearts and stars the first chance I got. I bet if I told Kiera the truth she could take Moxie over and do a much better job than me.

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But the Riot Grrrls tried hard not to have a leader. They wanted the movement to be one where everyone had an equal voice. That’s just one more reason for me to keep my identity a secret.

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“Anyway,” Kiera keeps going, “it was an interesting idea at least.” She makes her way to the door and pushes it open. “Cool talking with you, Viv.”

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“Yeah, cool talking with you, too,” I answer. And it was cool talking with her. It was cool seeing at least one other girl who followed Moxie’s instructions. I wish I’d asked Kiera if she knew anyone else who had marked her hands. But just knowing Kiera’s out there makes me feel a tiny bit better. Slightly less alone and weird. I take a deep breath and stare at myself in the mirror.

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“Just go back to class,” I say. I repeat it again and again until finally I do, my hands still covered in hearts and stars.

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* * *

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Maybe running into Kiera was a sign because after American history, I spy a few senior girls who are into all the drama productions and who also sit on the outskirts of pep rallies and football games walking down the hall with their hands marked. And there are two freshman girls whose lockers are near my second period class. And a few more hearts and stars sprinkled here and there on girls I spot in stairwells and corners and in the back courtyard where kids hang out during our ten-minute break during third and fourth. Some of the girls I know by name and some just by sight, but we catch each other’s eyes and nod and smile shyly like we’re in on some secret. Like we’re each other’s golden egg on some strange Easter egg hunt.

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The same thing happens when I walk into English class and spot Lucy Hernandez seated in the front row with stars and hearts drawn with blue marker in delicate curls and swirls across the backs of her hands and down her fingers and around her wrists.

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“Hey,” I tell her as I make my way down the aisle, other students filing in, “I like your hands.”

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Lucy looks up from under her black bangs and a smile spreads over her face. I wonder if I’m the first person to talk to her all day. I kind of think I might be.

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“Thanks,” Lucy answers. “I like yours, too.”

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“Yours are really pretty,” I say.

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Lucy smiles even bigger. “Thanks.”

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I smile back, and then there’s that same awkwardness I sensed in the bathroom with Kiera, and I’m not sure what to say next. Even though I think there’s something else I want to say.

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Just then Mitchell Wilson and his crew walk in, loud and taking up space and probably warming up their next make-me-a-sandwich joke, and that feeling I got that afternoon in the cafeteria on the day I made the first Moxie comes over me again. The feeling that made me want to clench my fists and dig my fingernails into my skin and scream.

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I don’t, of course. Instead, I take a breath and tuck my hair behind my ears, then pull out my English notebook and a ballpoint pen.

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“All right, class,” Mr. Davies begins as the bell rings, “let’s go back to the notes on the Enlightenment I provided you with yesterday.” Just as my brain begins to seize up with boredom, the classroom door opens and Seth Acosta walks in.

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He heads to his desk, his binder and books clutched in one hand at the side of his lean boy body.

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He is dressed in black jeans.

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He has on a black T-shirt.

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He is wearing black Vans.

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And on his hands, drawn with careful precision in black ink, are small hearts and tiny stars.

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As he slides into his desk, fireworks explode in my gut and my heart pounds so hard I know I won’t be able to hear a thing Mr. Davies is saying, even if I were bothering to listen.

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Jul 6
Salma O (Jul 06 2022 11:13AM) : he's not like other boys more

I sense a cliché/tropes coming aboard.

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Jul 20
Harry B (Jul 20 2022 5:32AM) : Cliche more

LOL, I like how when she is in tune to herself, the description is deep deep DEEP and vivid.

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CHAPTER SEVEN

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Claudia earns a best friend medal and a million free chocolate cupcakes for the patience she gives me during the pre-lunch pep rally, when we tuck ourselves up at the top of the bleachers and I start whispering about Seth Acosta’s hands.

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“Okay, but why are you whispering?” Claudia shouts. “It’s loud as hell in here, and anyway, he’s nowhere to be found.” The school band is warming up again, playing the same five or six rah-rah songs they play over and over at the football games, and Claudia is right—we can’t see Seth anywhere in the school gym. “No one is going to hear you freaking out over Mister Magic Hands,” Claudia continues. Her eyebrows fly up. “Okay, now I get why you’re so into him. Magic hands.” She cracks up at her own words.

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I blush in spite of myself. “God, Claudia.”

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“Oh, like it’s not like that with you and him?” she asks, incredulous. “Like it’s totally not about sex? You’re just into him for his mind, right?”

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“Enough,” I manage, burying my head between my knees so she’ll stop. The truth is, Seth’s hearts and stars did make him one hundred times hotter to me. All through class as Mr. Davies had droned on, I’d watched Seth’s temporarily tattooed hands taking careful notes, pausing every so often to scratch the back of his neck or quietly tap his fingers on the side of his desk. I’d cringed every time I’d heard Mitchell or one of his friends open his big mouth, worried Seth was going to become the butt of a joke. But nothing like that happened. Seth has done such a good job of sliding himself into the margins of East Rockport by rarely talking or doing anything extremely good or extremely bad that even though he doesn’t look like most of the other students, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one noticing his every move.

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“Hey, can I sit here?”

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I pop up to see Lucy Hernandez standing a few feet away, balancing herself on a bleacher. Something about her standing up in front of us makes me realize Lucy is a big girl. Tall—even taller than me, which is saying something—with big hips, big eyes, big, full red lips. Even her dark hair is big, falling over her shoulders in curly tsunamis. At first I kind of want her to go away because I just want to talk to Claudia about Seth. Then I feel like a shithead for thinking that.

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“Sure, you can sit here,” I say. There’s no need to scoot down to make room. Claudia and I are in the real nosebleed section of the gym, with Sara and Kaitlyn and the other girls we normally hang out with several rows ahead of us.

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“Thanks,” Lucy says, sitting down next to me so I’m in the middle.

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“Hey, I’m Claudia,” Claudia says, shouting her name over my lap. “You’re Lucy, yeah?”

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Lucy nods and smiles and tucks her knees up under her chin.

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“So you’re into that newsletter thing like Viv, huh?” Claudia asks, pointing at Lucy’s hands. On the gym floor, the East Rockport cheerleaders are doing their thing, led by Emma Johnson, as usual. The dance music piped in through the speaker system thuds as Emma and the other girls shimmy and shake in their spotless uniforms. Their moves are so precise, so perfect. The cheerleaders have these legendary three-hours-a-day practices all summer long, and I guess it pays off in the end.

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“You mean Moxie?” Lucy asks, answering Claudia’s question and holding up her hands. “Yeah, I thought it was cool. It reminded me of this club I was in at my old school in Houston.”

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“Is that where you moved here from?” I ask.

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Lucy says yes and, in a voice loud enough to be heard over the noise of the pep rally, tells us how her dad lost his job in June, so she and her parents and her little brother moved in with her grandmother in East Rockport. Her dad recently found a job as head of maintenance at Autumn Leaves, the town’s only nursing home, so now they’re here to stay.

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“At my old school I was vice president of this club called GRIT,” Lucy tells us. “It stood for Girls Respecting and Inspiring Themselves. It was, like, a feminist club.”

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“And people actually went to meetings?” I ask. I try to imagine a club like that at East Rockport and my brain turns cloudy with confusion.

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profile_photo
Jul 6
Caleb M (Jul 06 2022 9:06AM) : This really shows how different communities can be even though they are in the same state.
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Jul 20
Harry B (Jul 20 2022 5:32AM) : Communities more

Good point!

“Yeah, totally,” Lucy says. “We even had a couple of guy members. We did fund-raisers for the local women’s shelter and talked about stuff that we were concerned about. I was hoping there would be a club like that here. So I could meet other feminists, you know?” The way she says the word feminists so casually, so easily, sort of blows my mind. Claudia nods and smiles politely, but her eyebrows jump a bit.

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I’ve heard my mom use the word feminist when she talks to old friends on the phone. (“I mean, honestly, Jane, as a feminist that movie just pissed me off.” ) Riot Grrrls were into feminism, obviously, but up until this moment in the gym I didn’t think of them as feminists so much as super cool girls who took no shit.

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“I don’t think we’ve ever had a club like GRIT here,” Claudia says. “Wait, correction. I know we’ve never had a club like that here.”

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Lucy nods, her face wistful. Then she turns to me and asks, “Did you see that guy in our English class who had his hands marked?” I feel my cheeks heat up just a bit, but Claudia keeps her lips sealed, her eyes focused on the pep rally. I know she won’t ever say anything about my crush on Seth in front of Lucy.

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“Yeah,” I answer. “I think he’s new, too. Like you. I thought it was kind of cool.”

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“It was,” Lucy says. “But I’m surprised he didn’t get his ass kicked.”

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“Maybe none of the guys noticed,” I respond. “They were all too busy thinking about this.” I float my hand out in front of my face in the general direction of the pep rally. Principal Wilson is giving his usual come-to-Jesus speech about supporting our boys and blah, blah, blah. The football players start walking out in their team jerseys, and the students in the first few rows roar so loud my ears hurt. I glance around at the other students in the back rows. A girl I don’t know is slumped in a bleacher alone, totally asleep. A few skinny, pimply boys are grouped in a clump, staring blankly down at the gym floor.

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“Do you guys actually go to these games?” Lucy asks, her brow furrowed.

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“Usually,” shrugs Claudia. “But Viv bailed on me for the last one.”

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“I wasn’t feeling good,” I remind her. “But yeah,” I continue, answering Lucy’s question, “there just isn’t much else to do around here. So we go.”

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Lucy’s eyebrows furrow deeper as she thinks, I’m sure, of the one movie theater in town and the one twenty-four-hour Sonic Drive-In and the one main drag. None of those things are things that are any fun by yourself.

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“Hey, you want to come and hang out at the game with us tonight?” I blurt out, glancing at Claudia out of the side of my eyes, hoping she’s okay with it. But Claudia just smiles and says, “Yeah, you should come. It’s a home game. We won’t even have to drive far or anything.”

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Lucy chews on a thumbnail, her eyes still on the activity in front of her. My heart picks up speed a bit until she turns and looks at us and says, “Okay, why not. I’ll go.” Then she stares back at Mitchell Wilson and Jason Garza practically beating on their chests as they urge the crowd to yell louder and louder for them. Lucy’s eyes widen. “God, it’s honestly like Roman gladiators or something out there,” she says, giving the gym floor her best what-the-fuck face. “Like, they’re acting like they’re about to go wrestle tigers or lions or whatever.”

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“I know, right?” I answer, smiling. It really is the perfect description.

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* * *

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On the Friday nights when my mom isn’t working and there’s a home game, she’ll sometimes join Meemaw and Grandpa to watch the East Rockport Pirates play football. I wonder if it’s intensely depressing for her to have to sit in the same bleachers that, when she was a teenage girl, she totally shunned in favor of driving to Houston to go to punk rock shows. But she always says it’s fun for her now, as an adult, to just sit back and observe the spectacle.

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“It’s a display of testosterone-fueled hypermasculinity, sure,” she told me once, “but a person can only watch so much on Netflix all by herself on a Friday night before it starts to get really sad.”

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But this Friday afternoon as I stand in my bra and jeans digging through my closet to find something to wear to the game, my mom pops her head into my bedroom. The first thing I notice is her cheeks have a little more blush on them than usual and her lipstick looks fresh.

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“Hey, you’re going with Claudia tonight, right?” she asks.

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“Yeah, she’s picking me up.”

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“Okay,” she says, nodding. Then she moves into my room, but her steps are uncertain. My mom and I never hesitate to go into each other’s rooms.

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“Look, Vivian, I’m not going to be driving to the game with Meemaw and Grandpa, okay?” she begins, and I notice her smile is stretched sort of thin, the freshly lipsticked corners of her mouth not really turning all the way upward.

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“Are they not going?” I ask.

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“No, it’s just…” She pauses so long I finally pull a T-shirt on over my head. This seems like the type of conversation in which a person should not be standing around in just a bra and jeans.

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“Mom, what is it?”

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“Do you remember John, from the HEB?” she starts, her smile still fighting to stay a smile, her lighthearted voice sounding forced. I can feel the sides of my mouth sliding downward, but I’m not forcing it at all.

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“That guy who voted for the Republican?” I ask. I attempt to arch an eyebrow. I know I’m being a little pain in the ass.

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My mother rolls her eyes. At least her expression is finally authentic. “Yes, Vivvy, that guy.”

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“Yeah, I remember him.”

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“Well, you know, we work together at the clinic, and it turns out he’s one of the doctors for the football team. You know, he’s on the sidelines during all the games in case of an emergency. He just started doing it.”

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Wow, so he votes Republican and he tends to sexist Neanderthals on the side. Sounds like a real winner. To my mom I just say, “Okay?”

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“Anyway, he asked me to have a drink with him after the game. Maybe down at the Cozy Corner.” The Cozy Corner is the one bar in East Rockport that my mom goes to on the super rare occasion that she goes out with some of the other nurses from work. She says she likes that they have the Runaways on the jukebox.

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“Okay,” I say again because I can’t think of what else to say. I wonder if this Republican John dude likes the Runaways. Highly doubtful.

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“I just wanted to let you know I might be a little late getting home, but not too late,” she says, her fake smile back on her face, her voice a half-assed attempt at cheerful.

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“So he’s taking you to the game?” I ask.

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“Yeah. He’s picking me up. You don’t have to come out of your room or anything. I told him I’ll just come out when I see his car.”

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“The car with the DELOBE bumper sticker on it?”

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“Yes, Vivvy.” Deep sigh. Half hopeful eyes.

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“Okay,” I say. “Well … have fun.”

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My mom lingers a few beats too long, and I know she’s debating whether or not she should keep on trying to talk about this. But she just pulls me in for a hug and a kiss on the temple. She smells like the vanilla extract she loves to use as perfume, and all of a sudden I’m sorry for everything.

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“Mom,” I say as she heads out of my bedroom.

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“Yeah?”

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“Have a good time.”

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Her eyes light up for real at last.

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* * *

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The game is actually fun. Claudia picks me up and then we go to Lucy’s neighborhood, where she’s waiting on the porch of a little green-and-white bungalow. When Claudia’s Tercel pulls into the driveway, Lucy bounces up, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt with red piping on the sleeves and collar. At least a dozen red plastic bracelets dance on one wrist. Her hands are still marked, too, like maybe she’s even touched up her hearts and stars a little.

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“Hey,” she says. “Thanks for coming to get me.” She slides into the back and immediately pops her head in between the driver and passenger seats. “This is the first time I’ve gone out or, like, done anything since I moved here.” She sounds a little breathless, like maybe she’s kind of nervous.

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“It was no big deal to come get you,” says Claudia, and the truth is, it’s easy to be around Lucy. When we meet up with Sara and Kaitlyn and Meg and the other girls we always hang out with, Lucy keeps up with them no problem, her easy, bubbly chatter acting as super hilarious new-girl commentary on the ways of an East Rockport football game.

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“Wait, how much money did they spend on that Jumbotron? Aren’t our math textbooks from the ’70s?”

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“When does Mitchell Wilson get trotted out on his golden chariot, pulled by white horses?”

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“If the Pirates don’t win, do we all have to drink spiked Kool-Aid, or what?”

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The other girls and I take time to catch Lucy up on all the town gossip, pointing out the half dozen former Pirates football players in the stands who were going to be big NFL stars until they suffered injuries or got kicked out of college for too many DUIs. Now they’re old men with potbellies that stretch out their orange East Rockport Booster T-shirts, and they watch every move on the field with expressionless faces. During halftime when all of us make our way through the crowd to the Booster Booth to get popcorn, we run into Meemaw and Grandpa, and Lucy smiles and introduces herself and looks them in the eyes and shakes their hands, and I know Meemaw will describe her later as “that lovely Spanish girl who was so darn charming.”

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I spy my mom way down at the front of the bleachers, behind the team bench, watching the game but not clapping or shouting or anything. She doesn’t see me. I purposely ignore looking too carefully at the mass of men and boys on the East Rockport sideline. I don’t want to spot John.

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The Pirates win, so we don’t have to kill ourselves, and even though I’ve had a lot of fun with Lucy, once Claudia and I drop her off and she waves and thanks us for inviting her, like, five times as she gets out of the car, I’m grateful it’s just me and my best friend since forever.

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“Wanna spend the night?” I ask Claudia. I’m not crazy about going home to an empty house, the emptiness forcing me to imagine my mom and Republican John at the Cozy Corner.

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“Sure, why not,” Claudia answers, and the fact that she doesn’t have anything with her doesn’t matter, because we spend the night at each other’s houses so often that we keep toothbrushes and extra sets of pajamas there.

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Later, after we’ve changed and spent some time catching up with stuff on our phones and eating pretzels dipped in peanut butter and talking about how John is all wrong for my mom, we collapse into my double bed. The glow-in-the-dark star stickers light up for a little while before the room slips into darkness.

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“I like Lucy,” I say, staring at the fading stars.

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“Yeah,” Claudia agrees, yawning. “She’s cool.”

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“I think that game was, like, culture shock.”

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Claudia rolls toward me. “Yeah, she hasn’t been indoctrinated since birth.” We both laugh.

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In the dark I can’t see if the hearts and stars on my hands have faded. It seems like so long ago that I tried to wash them off in the bathroom sink at school. “You know,” I say, “I think it’s kind of cool that she calls herself a feminist.”

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Claudia doesn’t answer right away. For a second I think she’s already fallen asleep.

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“Yeah, I guess,” she says, and I can tell she’s being really careful about what words she uses.

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“You mean you’re not sure it’s cool?” I ask, choosing my words carefully, too.

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“I mean, I just think you don’t have to label it,” Claudia says. “Like the word feminist is a really scary, weird word to people. It makes people think you hate men. I’d rather just say I’m for, you know, equality.”

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“But isn’t that what feminism is?” I say. “Equality? I don’t think it means you can’t want to go out with guys. I mean, I’m not trying to be difficult or whatever.” The truth is, I hate disagreements. Especially with Claudia. Which is why we’ve literally never had a single fight in all our years of being friends.

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“No, no, I get it,” Claudia says, and I know she wants this conversation to end. “I mean, I think you can call it humanism or equalism or peopleism or whatever.” She yawns again, louder this time. “I just think girls and guys should be treated the same.”

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“Me, too,” I say.

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“So we agree,” Claudia says.

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“Of course,” I say, even though I don’t actually think we do.

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Claudia yawns one last time, and, after we wish each other good night, I hear the gentle, even breathing of my best friend, signaling to me that she’s drifted off. All of a sudden, my mind is wide awake even though I thought I was tired. It replays through the day, and I find myself thinking of the hearts and stars on Lucy’s hands. On Kiera’s hands. On Seth’s.

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Lying there, staring at the ceiling, listening to Claudia breathe, I realize I’m waiting. Waiting for what, I’m not sure. Maybe for the sound of my mother’s keys in the front door. Or maybe for something important to start for real.

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CHAPTER EIGHT

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As October stretches on, Lucy Hernandez starts eating lunch with Claudia, me, and our other friends. Sometimes when she gets to the lunch table first, she pats the empty chair next to her and says, “Viv, sit here!” Once I catch Claudia rolling her eyes at this, but she does it so slightly I think I’m the only one who notices. With her sincere, bubbly personality, Lucy fits in pretty easily. And I make sure I sit next to Claudia as often as I sit next to Lucy.

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Just as Lucy has joined us at lunch, it seems like Republican John is joining my mom’s life, whether I like it or not. One evening, a few weeks after my mom goes to the Pirates game with him, they have dinner plans, and my mom gives me a heads up that he’s coming over to meet me officially. (“He’s nice, Vivvy, and I think you’ll really like him!” ) My mom’s in her room getting ready when he rings the doorbell, so I have to let him in. He’s dressed in some dumb button-down shirt and khakis. At least his scruffy, red beard is trimmed for the occasion.

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“Hey, Viv,” he says, smiling way too big.

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“Hey,” I answer back. I smile, too, to be polite. Then I lead him into the kitchen as my mom hollers, “Just a sec!” from down the hallway. Standing there, John examines the refrigerator and the dishwasher like they’re the most interesting appliances he’s ever seen. I lean against the kitchen counter, my face neutral. Maybe the polite thing would be to offer him a glass of water. But I’ve already smiled at him, so I figure I’m okay.

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“So how’s school treating you, Viv?” John asks, finally cracking the awkward silence.

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“Oh,” I say, pushing out another smile, “you know. The usual.”

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“Yeah,” he says, crossing his arms and immediately uncrossing them. “I’ll bet.” What can John know about my school anyway? He grew up in Clayton, not East Rockport, but if he’s the kind of doctor who wants to work with the football team, I’m willing to bet his high school experience was nothing like mine. He was probably president of the Young Conservatives and sat at the jock table.

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Just then my mom walks out wearing this gorgeous green dress and strappy sandals. This is no casual dinner.

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“Hey!” she says, her eyes bright. John grins back at her, and I wish I could disappear.

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“Hey!” he says. Then he slips a paperback out of the pocket of his pants. “Before I forget, I have that Faulkner novel I was telling you about. I mean, if you were serious about wanting to borrow it.” I guess he’s trying to wow her with his intellectual prowess, but my mom just thanks him in that high, tinkly voice and says, “We’ll see if this is the one that gets me to change my mind about his work.”

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“I promise, you’ll love it,” John says. Gag. Why is he trying to get my mom to like an author she told him she didn’t like?

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